Background on this week's stories:
#1. Rodents With Rakes
As the first rodent ever to be taught to use a tool in a laboratory setting, the Chilean Degu may soon become a favorite of researchers wishing to study the changes that happen in the brain when a mammal learns to use a tool. (They're already used to study the difference between male and female brains.)
What a Rodent Can Do WIth a Rake in Its Paw, a news story about Degu tool use from the New York Times.
Animals that spontaneously use tools in the wild (and not just in the laboratory, like Degus), include:
- Orangutans (2006 feature from Scientific American)
- Ravens (2007 feature in Scientific American available to digital subscribers only, also summarized in a blog post at Living the Scientific Life)
- Dolphins (SciAm Observations blog entry).
#2 Cheating Gene for Jocks
It's possible that some olympic athletes could pass the standard test intended to determine whether they're using testosterone to enhance their performance simply by having been born with a common variant of one particular gene, says a paper recently published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism.
A Reuters article about the finding.
Genetics of androgen disposition : Implications for doping tests (pdf here), the dissertation by Dr. Jakobsson Schulze on which the paper is based.
The Doping Dilemma, a feature from the April issue of Scientific American that uses game theory to explain the pervasive abuse of drugs in many sports.
#3 Quake-Sensing Laptops?
The accelerometer in many laptops is designed to detect movement of the device in order to prevent damage to it. Now it's being put to a use its creators probably never intended: earthquake detection.
Scientists Want Your MacBook for Earthquake Detection, an article in Wired on the nascent network, derived from a University of California Riverside press release.
The homepage of the Quake-Catcher Network includes downloadable software that can turn your laptop into a node on this network.
Earthquake Warning System Sounds Alarm Seconds before Tremors Begin, a news item in Scientific American, describes the existing earthquake early-warning system that the Quake-Catcher Network is designed to supplement.
A list of other distributed computing networks you can participate in.
#4 Poison Gas Puts Mice on Pause
You may know Hydrogen sulfide as the foul stench that issues from rotten eggs and sewers, but it turns out the toxic gas is also useful for putting mice into a "suspended animation" characterized by lowered body temperature and decreased heart-rate.
Hydrogen Sulfide induces hibernation in mice, a blog entry from Ars Technica's Nobel Intent science blog.
Hydrogen sulfide gas has a number of other effects that are both good and bad, including:
- Prolonging life in the C. elegans worm (Scientific American article)
- Acting as a signal within our circulatory system, one that can be turned on by garlic (60 Second Science podcast)
- Destroying most of the life on earth in a series of mass extinctions (Feature from Scientific American Magazine)